The U.S. is in the middle of an opioid epidemic.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2014 to 2015, overdose-related deaths from one opioid alone, heroin, increased by 20.6 percent, with nearly 13,000 people dying in 2015.

Meanwhile, there remain no known marijuana overdose deaths, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and studies have found states that have legalized marijuana have seen a decrease in opioid-related deaths.

So, of course, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to ramp up the fight against legal marijuana.

On Thursday, Sessions rescinded the Obama administration’s relatively hands-off policy toward states that have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. Federal prosecutors where marijuana is legal under state law will now be free to decide for themselves how aggressively to enforce federal laws.

The Justice Department doesn’t have the resources to truly crack down on marijuana in states where they have no state and local support. But it doesn’t necessarily need them.

The main effect of Sessions’ action is to cause uncertainty, which will disrupt the newly burgeoning legal pot markets in states such as Colorado and California.

The prospect of an aggressive federal prosecutor swooping in isn’t just a threat to marijuana businesses, but also anyone who does business with them, such as financial institutions or landlords.

Not coincidentally, Sessions also opposes reforming civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to seize the property of the accused even before they’re convicted of a crime — and makes it difficult and sometimes impossible even for those found not guilty to get their property back. A landlord renting to a marijuana-related business might well have his rental property seized by the feds, should a federal attorney emboldened by Sessions’ renewed anti-marijuana crusade be inclined to press the issue.

Disrupting marijuana businesses is exactly what Sessions intends. He may lack the resources to carry on a full-scale drug war without state and local cooperation, but he can create chaos.

Why would Sessions do this given a majority of Americans now favor marijuana legalization and the evidence marijuana use deters use of more dangerous drugs such as opioids?

Sessions is proudly stuck in the past and claims marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than drugs like heroin.

“I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful,” Sessions told law enforcement officials in a speech last year.

That Sessions is unfashionable is true, but irrelevant. More to the point, he is dangerously mistaken.

Even if legal marijuana sales weren’t correlated with a decrease in opioid overdoses, legal sales might well result in fewer “marijuana-related” deaths.

As The Washington Post’s Wonkblog noted last March, “Marijuana itself is not a deadly substance. ‘No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported,’ according to the DEA. But ... (at least 20) deadly (SWAT) raids on suspected marijuana dealers (since 2010) underscore how drug enforcement can become a greater threat to life and safety than drug use itself.”

Senators in both parties spoke out last week against Sessions’ action. A bill in the U.S. Senate, S.1689, the Marijuana Justice Act, would end marijuana prohibition at the federal level and turn it over to the states.

Sessions may embrace federalism only when it suits his fancy, but the Senate should embrace it here and leave the war on marijuana up to the states that still choose to wage it, and not force it upon those that don’t.

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(6) comments

Tom McCutcheon

Decatur Daily Editorial. Feb. 8,2107

Would you have said this to California?


Calhoun Community College President Jim Klauber says he is increasingly concerned by comments he hears from business leaders, including those in the space industry and military contractors. While they are pleased with the training job applicants have received, there are too many who can’t get jobs because they fail drug tests or have drug- or alcohol-related infractions on their records.

Klauber said the school is considering a voluntary testing program for students enrolled in skilled training programs, which are largely funded with state money.

Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker said such testing could become mandatory.

“We feel like we can’t afford to spend the money it takes to provide the skilled training programs if we know they aren’t going to be able to get jobs,” Baker said at a recent budget hearing in Montgomery.

Sadly, this is not a new development. The state has been hit hard by a wave of illegal drug use that is crippling not only the ability to maintain a reliable workforce, but to the people ensnared by addiction.

During the budget hearing, Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, said the Alabama Industrial Development and Training program tested job seekers before training them several years ago. He said the testing showed AIDT was spending “tens of millions of dollars training numerous people who were not going to be qualified for the positions.”

Under normal circumstances, drug testing those seeking training would be an unusual step. Under current circumstances, it appears that testing before training is an option that must be considered. Taxpayers are understandably frustrated at the idea of providing specialized job training for people who cannot pass a drug test.

The other side of the problem is the prevalence of drug abuse. Not only is methamphetamine rampant, the abuse of prescription medicines such as Xanax is widespread. How to combat the epidemic is up for debate, but without a plan of some sort, it will only get worse.

A sense of hopelessness seems to have settled over high-poverty areas of Alabama. State services have been cut to the bone; access to quality medical care is becoming more difficult; and employers are coalescing around metropolitan areas. That seems to be contributing to the rise in drug abuse.

But one thing Alabama has gotten right is jobs training at the post-secondary education level. Employers can rely on state assistance through education to provide trained workers to meet their needs.

Providing that training to people who have active substance abuse problems is not a good investment. A better approach would be to first offer treatment options after confidential drug testing. Once they have shown the ability to overcome substance abuse, jobs training is the next step to helping them become productive participants in an economy that needs workers who are skilled and reliab

JERRY MITCHELL

It's not in the AG's scope to decide which laws to follow and which ones to ignore. I think pot should be legal.But that's up to congress to change the law. The DD has always talked out of both sides of their butt.When Alabama passed laws that reflected the Federal laws pertaining to illegal immigration where was the DD?

Bill Wood

The writer obviously has never had the opportunity to run a business and see how it affects families. You have never seen employees that put the joy of smoking over the feeding of their babies. You expect free health care when in most cases these people could afford their on health insurance if they chose to be responsible adults instead of pot heads. They lose days of work because of substance abuse. It affects their quality and quantity of work. Your article purports to be about states rights but in reality you are promoting a decadent society where it's self-gratification comes before responsibilities.

Roy Hill

You’re for States rights? No matter the issue States rights are States rights. Where were you on States rights on same sex marriage or immigration or the countless other issues during the Obama administration? Let me answer that for you, you were against the States. Typical Decatur Daily, writing with both ends of the pen. Either you’re for them or against them you can’t have it both ways.

Dixie Boy

Exactly correct!

Dixie Boy

No doubt the State will see an increase in vehicle accident deaths from this drug as have ALL the other States who have legalized Maryjane within their borders. We can expect to see an increase in our automobile insurance rates for sure. Almost ALL of the new dispensers of legal MaryJane are of a select few who have the wealth & politics to garner their license-to-sell. The cash-only transactions create the opportunity to bypass taxes with accountability hard to trace...and the security risk to business itself for theft & worse. So getting "mellow & high" legally has a price attached to it for our local Society.
We all want our State Rights for local rule so let the voters decide if the State wants to go down the legal path of enriching a very few for a few to lite up with legal dope.

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